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In the Stars

By Arac de Nyeko, Monica | The Nation, September 15, 2003 | Go to article overview

In the Stars


Arac de Nyeko, Monica, The Nation


My mother used to talk about him; my Uncle Oryema. How she begged him not to become a soldier. "He didn't listen," she always said and swallowed hard like she never forgave him for disappearing from our grasp like raa smoke. He was so far away from home, somewhere in the jungles, holding his rifle when death beckoned. A man brought the news to my grandma. Said the gunfire had been heavy. Her son had been shot in the stomach. That he had tied an old green army uniform to hold his bowels together and fled for his life. The man offered to go back to search for our Uncle Oryema with another uncle who later joined the army, to fight the demons of his brother's death that haunted him. They combed Kituba trees where they say spirits live, the long grasses of the blazing Kitgum wilderness with scorpions and snakes. Uncle Oryema would now remain a memory in our hearts. On his "grave" grandma laid four large stones to show where we should have laid his body.

Of the many things about him, it's the toffee sweets he brought me when he returned from college and told Ma he was going to fight that I remember most. That day he took me to the cinema--my first time ever to see a motion picture, with images the size of our city council house.

I went to the family cemetery yesterday. There was Ma lying beside Uncle Oryema; she joined him seven years later. At least she had not been struck on the head with an ax or set ablaze in a hut. Meningitis took her.

Worry had drained Ma's spirit. When she followed Uncle Oryema into death, I wished that perhaps she would learn to forgive him. She would learn not to worry about this war. But she had died knowing we would never go to school because it was always bullets and bombs. Our virginity would fall prey to wicked savagery. We would be abducted and forced to fight. Our bodies would be food to vultures.

The 1986 war against the Lord's Resistance Army in northern Uganda started as only a joke, but it has eaten away the Acholi tribe, who live in the north of the country. It's like an imaginary tale. Children are trained to be lethal massacre weapons. Sometimes they flee back home to seek what was taken from them, but they discover they cannot stay because their minds think of blood and killing only. They tell of the urine they drank from the unbearable thirst. The young girls, our former schoolmates, have been sex slaves and loathe male company. We will never know what happened to many of them.

Memories of nights in rain and gripping fear creep to our dreams. Sleep should be the one place where there is no worry.

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